Long term suicide?

Published by Richard Radcliffe on

Having celebrated over 30 years in fundraising (which probably qualifies me to be a really boring old fart) I find myself wondering whether anything has really changed in fundraising apart from social media – which I enjoy more and more every day.

In my opinion, which maybe increasingly cynical as I age, I truly wonder if we have really got better at fundraising.  You might know I specialise in legacies but when I started in fundraising, I or rather my charity, won the first ever gold award from Royal Mail. It was the best piece of mail in the UK (1984 I think).

The result of this acquisition mailing was over 11% (yes eleven per cent). Back in those Halcyon days legacy fundraising campaigns were boring, donors were happy and fundraising was so easy.

So what is the situation now?

Donors are not that happy and many are not happy at all.

Most legacy campaigns are still incredibly boring.

Direct mail response levels are plummeting and a response rate of 11% is a dream that will never be fulfilled again

hangman1But what HAS got better?

What can we be really proud of in terms of truly advancing individual giving?

In about 1990 I did one of the first legacy surveys and we found that 4% of the population in the UK left a legacy now it is 6% which is hardly a globe changing advance.

Social media is without doubt changing the world of fundraising, or perhaps giving, but one question has been sitting in my brain for quite a time and it is this:

Have we really changed the attitudes and behaviours patterns of donors in 30 years?

My belief is that we are all too bloody shy nervous and possibly not in a position of influence, to be truly daring.  We possibly take fundraising too seriously and therefore our impact on donor behaviour is just dull.

As I get older I feel braver to challenge behaviour but perhaps donors are not ready to be treated in a daring way.

On Friday I was meeting donors. One of the first comments was “there is too much thanking” followed by “there is also too much asking”. Should we all recognise that there is a donor ceiling, in terms of numbers and values? Has the time come to stop all donor acquisition and invest purely in being really really really nice to our current donors?

Would concentrating 100% on cultivation and stewardship result in more change in donor behaviour than yet more supposed innovation in acquisition?

Excluding social media advances which are so pertinent for recruiting younger donors, have we taken our eye off the most important donor segment who complete the pyramid by leaving a gift in their Will?

In my view the answer is yes.  And particularly during the recession when every fundraising director and every individual giving team is after money NOW to hit their short term target. This has to be long term suicide.

Richard Radcliffe

Richard Radcliffe is founder of Radcliffe Consulting, which helps charities to get more legacies. He is author of “Why legacies are brilliant for charities and how to get them,” recently published by Smee & Ford. He has almost 30 years’ experience in legacy fundraising and works across our globe.


Jaap Zeekant · November 26, 2013 at 13:21

Hoof point Richard!

Jaap Zeekant · November 26, 2013 at 13:22

Good point

m · November 26, 2013 at 20:38

These are very valid points however but in the future I hope you’ll be more considerate with your choice of words. Suicide is a very serious issue and impacts the life of so many. “This has to be long term suicide” doesn’t have to be in your blog. Thank you.

Chelsea · March 5, 2014 at 17:16

I’m late to the party, but I’m curious about the donors saying there’s “too much thanking.” Can you elaborate on that, please?

    Richard Radcliffe · March 5, 2014 at 20:37

    Hi Chelsea good question, donors are I fickle . To answer your question they often say thank you letters are a waste of money so do not send them. So you do not send them which results in a relationship breakdown except for the few who really plan their giving and require no further contact.
    Some however love thank you letters even though they say they do not want them. Others say they want them and then complain about admin and fundraising costs. Many donors tick a box saying do not send me a thank you letter and then complain in focus groups they get no information from the charity,
    On occasions I am tempted to say fundraising would be much easier without donors!!!!!!! Why? Because there are always those grumpy old ******** who will never be satisfied.
    In my view the only thank you letter which works is one which is drafted and written personally regardless of whether they want it or not.
    Finally (sorry to go on) I so often hear from donors that they do not want to feel important or thanked. They just want to give but the real problem is that these donors do not want a relationship at all. They want a one way donation with no return however that might be defined, but that does not help the charity build a donation pyramid ending in a legacy
    Now I will shut up.

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